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Reviewed by:
  • Intimacy and Sexuality in the Age of Shakespeare
  • Gina Bloom (bio)
James M. Bromley. Intimacy and Sexuality in the Age of Shakespeare. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012. Pp. viii + 210. $95.00.

As courtrooms and chat rooms across the nation fiercely debate which couples have the right to have their until-death-do-you-part unions recognized under law, some queer theorists have asked us to consider why marriage is considered the sine qua non of intimate relationality in the first place. James M. Bromley’s book offers an important contribution to this conversation by providing a history of marriage’s association with intimacy. Bromley locates “in the age of Shakespeare” an alternate conception of intimacy that, had it not ultimately been foreclosed, [End Page 565] would have made the current marriage debates virtually moot. According to Bromley, the definition of intimacy often taken for granted today began to be codified in the early modern period, ultimately becoming the foundation for modern views of intimacy as inextricably linked to coupledom and heterosexual monogamy in particular. Marriage has come to be seen as the most privileged form of heterosexual monogamy because it presumably balances perfectly two key elements: interiorized desire and futurity. The first of these is the view of desire as internal to the subject such that to become intimate with another is to pursue “interpsychic connectedness” (4), penetrating beneath the surface of the body to something deeper below. The second key element in modern definitions of intimacy, Bromley explains, is the sense of a relationship’s potential to last into the future, evinced especially through the expectation that marriages produce offspring. Bromley’s book shows that this two-part definition of intimacy was not fully instantiated in the early modern period, however; thus, it was still possible then to imagine “alternate forms of relationality” and to “challenge the authority of couple form intimacy” (2). For early modern writers, the intimate could be fleeting and nonpenetrative (as in the unconsummated desire in Christopher Marlowe’s Hero and Leander); nonreproductive (as in the anal pleasures of William Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well); surface-level (as in the sadomasochistic skin markings that create pleasure in Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher’s The Maid’s Tragedy); and experienced not between two individuals but among a group (as in the erotic exchanges of the cloistered nuns imagined in the anonymous The Merry Devil of Edmonton). Bromley demonstrates how a range of literary texts, including poetry, prose, and drama, represent these alternate forms of relationality, which he calls “failures of intimacy”(3)—failures not because they are unable to provide satisfaction and pleasure but because they do not interiorize desire and/or allow access to futurity.

The book’s most original contribution to early modern studies and the history of sexuality can be found in its rethinking of interiority, an area that has received so much attention by scholars within and beyond these fields in the last several decades that there would appear to be nothing more to say on the subject. But Bromley points out that there is much at stake in querying the assumption, for instance, that desire is located on the inside of a body. He observes that critical approaches to inwardness—many of which are grounded in psychoanalytic views of desire and subjectivity—tend to be so invested in a distinction between internal and external spheres, with the former seen as hierarchically superior to the latter, that they overlook relationships that “reverse this hierarchy, make the external and internal equivalent, or completely avoid the distinction altogether” (13). In these latter relationships, intersubjective knowledge is not a precondition for or evidence of intimacy, as intimate pleasure can be found through “corporeal [End Page 566] proximity and even anonymity” (14). The significance of Bromley’s insights becomes especially clear in his discussion of masochism, a sexual practice that “locates pleasures at the body’s surface, uncoupling inwardness from affective relations” (80). Insofar as the masochist sets the terms of his or her submission, this sexual practice has the potential to destabilize the supposedly entrenched social hierarchies of places like the Renaissance court, as it is depicted in Thomas...


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pp. 565-568
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